TURKEY, 8th – 11th July 2017
Our journey through Turkey continued on a very nice small road in the direction of Sungurlu. Throughout most of the country we had been able to refill our water bottles at frequent springs, but we hadn’t seen any for a while in the barren landscape, and so at the town of Merkez we needed to stop for water. We’d just crossed a bridge and there was a big park on our left with a cafe in it. I went inside and asked the owner if we could get some water from the tap. He was a very cheerful man who not only allowed us to do this, but also immediately offered us glasses of tea. He sat us down at a table in the leafy park and soon brought us out our drinks. It was a welcome break in the shade. But the man, Halil, was not done yet, for he went back inside and then came out with plates of food too. There was bread, cheese, meat, vegetables, watermelon. It was a full breakfast spread, laid out on the table before us. Halil wore a beaming smile. It was all for us. We were once again humbled by the generosity of strangers.
Halil was a nice man (obviously) and we did our best to communicate with him despite the language barrier. The conversation soon stuttered due to our poor Turkish, but thankfully he had a smartphone. He used it to show us pictures of his family, and in particular one very entertaining grandson of his. Then we asked one another questions and had a conversation of sorts through the smartphone’s translation device. But the limitations of the technology were soon in evidence when Halil typed a message for me and hit translate, then handed it to me:
I answered that we had never attacked any dogs, and the conversation dwindled. It was time for us to hit the road again, but before we did Halil handed us each a can of cold Red Bull as one last gift. Dea drank hers but I stored mine away in a pannier. I never drank energy drinks, but I thought I’d keep this one for a time when I might really need it. Then it was a final thank-you to the wonderful Halil and we were off cycling again. The road rolled over open yellow hills but unfortunately grew busier and busier the further we went. It was just a narrow two-lane road and there were many trucks on it, so we were almost relieved to finally reach the town of Sungurlu. We navigated through this and were almost at the wide main road we would take north-eastwards when we spotted two touring bikes sitting outside of a supermarket.
The bikes were not heavily loaded and belonged to two young Turkish students, Sinan and Yunus. They were on a slightly different sort of tour from us – a three-day ride from Kirikkale to Samsun, all on the main highway and averaging 120 kilometres per day. But they were nice and they wanted to ride with us for the rest of the day and camp together, so this we did. They were the first touring cyclists we’d seen for some time, and the first we had ridden with since Jacob in Bosnia, although it was difficult to really ride together. They were on light road bikes and it was almost painful to watch them ride so slow to keep to our pace, especially as the fact that we were on the shoulder of a busy highway made it difficult to even talk with them.
It wasn’t long before it was time to pull off the road and make camp between some fields, which gave us more time to talk. It also gave me a chance to ask Sinan, the better English speaker, to translate what Halil had really meant in his message, the one which had been translated by the faulty technology as ‘So dangerous, do you attack a dog or something I said to answer that I would not mind anything clean people.’ Sinan stared at the Turkish for a moment and then offered his own interpretation. “It means: It’s so dangerous, do you attack a dog…. I said to answer you that I would not mind anything… clean people.”
We thought it nice to camp with these nice young Turkish guys, although at three in the morning we began to question our decision when they started having a very loud conversation in their tent. It woke me and Dea up and drove us a bit mad. They obviously hadn’t realised that, with our tents being close together, we would be disturbed. Eventually I shouted something out and they quietened things down for a bit. Then at 4:20 a.m. their alarm went off, very, very loudly. I groaned, annoyed at being woken again, and tried to go back to sleep. They had said they might get up at five or six, but when Dea and I got up around eight they were still there, and wanted to ride further with us.
The events of the night were not discussed as we cycled onwards. I wanted to ask why they had set their alarm for 4:20 a.m. and then not even got up, but thought better of it and decided to try a different topic, asking Sinan his political opinions. This was something that had come up surprisingly little throughout Turkey, but it was no doubt on everyone’s mind, bubbling under the surface. One thing I felt was that the people seemed a bit less vibrant, a bit more melancholy, compared with how I remembered Turkey from three years ago. As for Sinan, his response was simply to say, “I love Turkey, I hate politics, all people in politics are bad.” Not much you can say to that, is there?
After an hour or so we left Sinan and Yunus to continue their ride to Samsun, and turned our noses east on a much smaller road. It was made of brick and had red lanes on either side that was suddenly and bizarrely reminiscent of Holland. We could easily have believed we were back there, were it not for the fact we were going up a hill, and passing fields of refugees who were working the fields by hand under the hot sun. It brought us up to a small town where there was a museum that Sinan had recommended to us. We stopped to take a look. There were a lot of old things, pots and things from 3,000 years ago. This was Turkey, so of course there were 3,000 year-old teapots. Still, we would have left the museum a bit disappointed had it not been for the 3,000 year-old human skeletons we found outside. They were the sultans of ye olden times, buried in tombs with golden trinkets and the skulls of oxes above them. Their bones were withered and cracked, and over their heads, dwarfing their shrunken skulls, lay golden crowns. Interesting stuff.
From the museum we descended towards Alaca on a road that had not quite been finished. Loose tar, sticky from the hot sun, covered our tyres and panniers. Luckily there was a spring at end of the road and we were able to wash the worst of it off. In Alaca, a bigger town, we found a hip cafe with wifi and sat for a while to upload a blog post. It was the place where the kids went to hang out, with shisha pipes and loud music, and we must have looked very out of place, but free wifi was hard to come by in Turkey (every gas station had a wifi connection, but nobody ever knew the password).
From Alaca we had a long climb on a wonderfully quiet little road. Along the way we were stopped by a family at a country home. There were an extraordinary number of people there. A couple of them knew some English, and it was explained to us that this was all one family, somehow with about fifty members, all of them pleased to see us. We were invited inside and given home-made ayran, bread, cheese, jams. Once again we were overwhelmed by the Turkish hospitality.
We probably would have been welcome to stay the night with this family, but we were beginning to worry more about our progress and time-frame. Cycling the high Pamir mountains of Tajikistan in October had always been a concern, especially for Dea, and we wanted to make our way east more quickly if we could. We’d applied for Uzbekistan visas for August 15 – September 13 to try and get to the Pamirs before the end of September, but getting through the rest of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea and into Uzbekistan by the 15th of August left us precious little time for relaxing, so we pressed on up the hill.
The need to keep moving brought us back to the main highway at Turhal and we planned to follow it for several days to make up ground. The highways in Turkey were generally quite safe, with wide shoulders, and were faster than the smaller roads. Of course we preferred to ride on the quiet roads, which gave us the chance to ‘be’ in Turkey much more than the highways. But there were also advantages to the main route. For example there would be a gas station at least every twenty kilometres, with a fridge full of ice creams. With temperatures frequently above thirty degrees, we indulged often, although, now that I think about it, such frequent ice cream stops probably didn’t help our progress all that much.
It wasn’t easy to find places to camp. One night, some seventeen kilometres before the city of Tokat, we left the highway and found an orchard that seemed quiet enough to camp at the back of. But before we could put up the tent the owner of the orchard arrived in his car. Luckily he was a friendly man, and was more than happy for us to stay. He asked if we needed anything and then left us to it.
We put up the tent and cooked some dinner on our little camping stove, our happy little nightly routine, and then lay down in the tent. The temperature was hot, like always, but before long I began to feel really very uncomfortable. I felt very sick and had to make a sudden bolt out of the tent. I didn’t get very far before throwing up in the poor man’s orchard. Unfortunately this didn’t make me feel any better at all. A short while later I was at it again. And again. My stomach was empty but I just kept on retching up nothing. It was all rather reminiscent of one night, long ago, in Turkmenistan. Dea comforted me for a while, but there was really nothing she could do. I dragged my sleeping mat outside and lay there in the cooler air. Every 20-30 minutes I would come over feeling hot and have to vomit, a horrible new routine that continued for the whole long, lonely, miserable night.
By morning I felt truly horrendous. I had not slept and I had no food or water left in my system. I simply couldn’t hold down any water. I had no energy and I was seriously dehydrated. I honestly felt like I needed to be in a hospital. I needed to be on a drip.
The owner of the orchard returned. He chose a rather inopportune moment, for it coincided with one of my more spectacular vomiting episodes. He looked concerned. I looked at his car. I knew that the only sensible thing for anyone of sound mind to do now was to ask him for a lift to hospital. My attempt to circumnavigate the planet using only my bicycle and boats was surely over.
Merkez – Sungurlu – Turhal
Distance cycled: 293 kilometres